9 Ways And 3 Exercises To Relieve Upper Back Pain In Pregnancy

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Upper back pain in pregnancy, also called thoracic pain during pregnancy, is mostly experienced during the third trimester. The pain is induced by the increasing weight of the body during pregnancy, resulting in extra pressure on the back.

Upper back pain is not a serious condition and may be treated with simple exercises and home remedies. However, if the pain does not improve, seek medical attention.

Read this post to learn about upper back pain during pregnancy, its causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

Reasons For Upper Back Pain During Pregnancy

The primary reason for upper back during pregnancy is the additional weight of the baby. Below are some of the other factors that may cause upper back pain in pregnancy (1) (2).

1. Size of the uterus

As the pregnancy progresses and the baby grows, the uterus begins to enlarge. The weight of the uterus puts pressure on the nerve endings and the muscles around the spine. This can result in upper back pain. Other causes of abnormal enlargement of the uterus are polyhydramnios, multiple pregnancy, and fetal macrosomia.

The size of the uterus influences other factors as well.

  • Center of gravity: The growing uterus moves the body’s center of gravity to the front. This can exert pressure on the spine since its muscles have to work extra to balance the body’s posture.
  • Incorrect posture: The change in the body’s weight and center of gravity may cause some women to develop an incorrect posture. Sustained incorrect posture, especially as the pregnancy progresses, could lead to upper back pain.

2. Symphysopathy

It is also known as symphysis pubis dysfunction or pelvic girdle pain. Symphysopathy refers to the condition where rigidness of the joints near the pelvic area during pregnancy exerts pain in the pubic symphysis region of the mother. This interferes with the balance during sitting or standing. It may lead to pain, which could gradually radiate to the rest of the spine, including the upper back.

3. Hormonal changes

The body releases different hormones during pregnancy. One of them is relaxin, which causes the joints and the ligaments near the pelvic area to loosen up, and the pelvic bones to gain certain mobility in order to prepare the body for labor. The loose joints are less strong, exerting pressure on the back and inducing pain.

Ways To Relieve And Prevent Upper Back Pain In Pregnancy

A gentle massage or a back rub is a common and instant solution for backaches. However, there are several other home activities and measures you may consider to relieve upper back pain in pregnancy (3) (4) (5).

  • Consume calcium: Adequate calcium consumption during (specially during the third trimester) and before pregnancy could strengthen your joints and bones, making them more adept at bearing extra weight during pregnancy. A daily calcium intake of 1,000 mg during pregnancy can make your bones stronger to support your balance. Dairy items, such as milk, curd, cheese, are the chief sources of calcium.
  • Use correct footwear: Heels or any footwear with uneven soles may strain your back and muscles. Therefore, wear sandals or shoes with a flat sole, which can also help maintain your balance.
  • Avoid bending: Bending your back during pregnancy can put a strain on your back muscles. It may also be risky. Therefore, if you need to pick something from a lower height, take someone’s help. You may alternatively bend your knees instead of your back to stoop low.
  • Avoid lifting heavy objects: Whenever we lift any object, our back plays a major role in supporting our body. During pregnancy, there is enough stress and strain on your back due to the added weight of the baby. Hence, you must avoid lifting heavy objects or stooping down too often.
  • Maintain correct posture: Your posture tends to change with the added weight during pregnancy. Maintain your posture by keeping your back and knees straight. Try not to slouch and keep your shoulders pushed back while standing or walking. While sitting, you can use a pillow or any back support to keep the upright position.
  • Get adequate sleep: A good quality sleep during pregnancy is especially important in order to maintain a healthy body and relieve body pain. Sleep on your sides during pregnancy on a bed that is not too soft and supports your body.
  • Exercise: Exercises and yoga are commonly practiced by most pregnant women. These can not only help in maintaining the right posture but also provide great support to your back. Prenatal yoga, physiotherapy, and exercises such as swimming and walking could help reduce upper back pain during pregnancy.
  • Use belly bands: There are different types of bands or rings available for pregnant women to put around their affected area. They can help relieve some amount of pain during pregnancy.
  • Take hot and cold compression: These are classic techniques to relieve pain and have shown to be very effective for upper back pain during pregnancy as well. You can put hot and cold compresses on the pain-affected area.

Exercises For Upper Back Pain During Pregnancy

You may consider different types of exercises to reduce upper back pain during pregnancy (5) (6). Do take your doctor’s opinion before beginning any exercise in pregnancy (7).

1. Doorway stretch

This is an effective exercise for upper back pain as well as middle back pain during pregnancy to help loosen the strained muscles.

  • Stand in the doorway, reach out for the sides with both your hands.
  • Hold the position for about 10-15 seconds while inclining to the front.
  • Do this about twice daily.

2. Low back/rib stretch

Low backrip stretch for upper back pain in pregnancy

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This can be done while standing and also while lying on your back. This exercise helps to release the tension in the upper back and shoulders.

  • Rotate your upper body and bend slightly towards each side.
  • Repeat about thrice a day.

3. Wall squats

Wall squats for upper back pain in pregnancy

Image: iStock

Core strength is very important in order to maintain balance during pregnancy, and wall squats are a great way to do that.

  • Squat with your legs apart by leaning against an exercise ball placed next to the wall.
  • Move forward and backward or try rolling on your back to increase the strength of your abdominal muscles.

When To Contact Your Doctor

Although back pain can be easily treated at home, there may be instances when medical attention is required (2) (8).See your doctor if the following conditions accompany back pain.

  • Fever may indicate infection
  • Uterine contractions may indicate labor
  • Abdominal pain
  • Tingling sensation or numbness in any part of the body

Upper back pain in pregnancy can often be felt in the third trimester due to changes in the center of gravity and body posture. The pain can worsen if you’re not maintaining appropriate body posture. Hormonal changes and rigidity of pelvic joints can increase the severity of pain. You may take calcium supplements, avoid bending and lifting heavy objects and wear maternal footwear to help reduce upper back pain. Practicing prenatal exercises and maintaining body weight can also be beneficial.

Key Pointers

  • The additional weight of the baby is the primary reason for upper back during pregnancy.
  • A gentle massage or a back rub is a common and instant solution for pregnancy backaches.
  • Doorway stretch, low back/rib stretch, and wall squats are some exercises to reduce upper back pain.
  • Upper back pain is common during pregnancy; however, if the pain doesn’t go away or worsens, consider consulting a doctor.


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Dr. Miguel Ángel Guagnelli Martínez

Dr. Miguel Ángel Guagnelli obtained an MD from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) and specialized in Pediatrics at “La Raza” National Medical Center. He has a Master´s Degree in Pediatric Endocrinology from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelonaand a Master´s Degree in Clinical Epidemiologý from UNAM. He is currently working on a PhD project. Dr. Guagnelli teaches Clinical Epidemiology in the... more

Aneesha Amonz

Aneesha holds a Bachelor's degree in Biotechnology from USTM, Meghalaya and Master’s degree in Applied Microbiology from VIT, Vellore. She has worked on different research projects in the field of Food Sciences. In addition, she has an internship experience in Oil India Limited as an R&D project trainee. As a writer at MomJunction, Aneesha ensures her content is engaging and... more